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Meet The British Nurses Campaigning To Save Their Profession

Photographed by MICHAEL SEGALOV
Thousands of students, nurses and their supporters took to the drizzly streets of London yesterday to protest against planned cuts to trainee nurses’ funding.

At the moment, student nurses receive a bursary while studying – a vital recourse that they don’t have to pay back. Unlike other students, there are no tuition fees either, which means the profession is one of the most accessible in the UK. It’s pretty obvious why: a lot of their time as a student is spent on placement in hospitals, where they work on the front lines of the NHS, but are not paid for their toil. That can mean up to 2,300 hours of unpaid labour, currently undertaken as part of the course. It also means these nurses often don't have time to work elsewhere to support themselves financially– and that's where the bursaries come in.
Photographed by MICHAEL SEGALOV
However, under proposals announced in November, nurses will be saddled with over £50,000 of debt. The bursary will go, a maintenance loan to be taken out instead, and that’ll have to be paid back when nurses start earning. £9,000 a year tuition fees are being pushed forward too. Unsurprisingly, nurses are worried and angry – so they are preparing to fight.

With junior doctors striking this Tuesday, and the battle for bursaries taking shape, it seems like a warning shot to the government that there’ll be no holding back. The NHS will grind to a halt, and these nurses argue it’s a sign of what’s to come.

I headed to St Thomas’ Hospital the morning of Saturday 9th of January, where the crowds were beginning to meet. As the protest weaved through the streets of London, receiving support from tourists and locals alike, I talked to the nurses behind the dispute and gauged their opinion on what the cuts will mean for us and for them.

Dominique Turay

“When I was younger I was in hospital a lot, and I saw first-hand what the nurses did for me and my mum – that’s why I wanted to do it. Without this bursary, I wouldn’t have been able to come into nursing; my mum isn’t able to support me. I do it alone, and rely on the bursary. Right now I can just about get by on the bursary and grant, but I still need extra help from my university. My 12-hour shifts don’t leave time to find other work, and the bursary is barely enough to get by on.”

Hani Abdulle

“I’m in my first year of nursing, and I can tell you that, without the bursary, you just can’t do this course. It’s tough, the placements and the classes, and without the bursary I couldn’t afford to travel or eat. I’ll spend half my time as a student at work, on a placement, in a hospital, or somewhere else. I want to care for people, but I’d end up priced out. Jeremy Hunt needs to stop and think about this, not just for the negative impact on us, but on the country.

Sophia Koumi

“At the moment we have a shortage of nurses in the NHS, a deficit of 10,000 in London alone. My training means I have to do 4,600 hours over three years, with half of that time spent on placements, working fulltime for the health service. The changes will see us having to pay to go to work! Whatever affects doctors affects nurses, and vice versa. Anything that affects the NHS will affect us all.”

Kate Brown

“As a nursing lecturer, I tell my students that care must be evidence based, and that principle must apply to the health service as a whole. Jeremy Hunt has no idea what the consequences of these cuts will be. There’s no pilot, no model, no assessments.

"The proposal from the government is reckless, will endanger patients, and will adversely affect future students. If you undermine the flow of nurses, you destabilise the entirety of the system.

"The average student nurse is 29 on commencement of training; the idea of taking on £30k+ debt at that age is a deterrent. We’re an extremely diverse society, and nurses right now, I’m pleased to say, are able to reflect that."

Michaela McLachlan

“I’m a mature student nurse up in Bradford, and I’ve come down to London today with everyone who could make it from my course. The majority of us are mature students; we’ve got children, responsibilities, mouths to feed and bills that have to get paid. The bursary has given us this chance.

"There’s a huge amount of diversity in nursing, which makes us such a warm and open profession. If this financial support goes, mature students like me will get cut out; as mothers with three or four kids, we can’t take on £50,000 of debt to earn just over £20,000 a year, the numbers just wouldn’t add up. "

Charlie Williamson

“The life of a student nurse is busy, it’s much more intense than your typical course. I have lectures solidly from 9-4 every day, and when we’re on placements, I’m doing 12.5-hour shifts... including nights.

"These changes are, put bluntly, awful. I want to have good nurses alongside me when I work, and good nurses treat me when I’m sick. It just won’t happen if people can’t afford to train. It’s ridiculous."

Katie Page

“I’ve been a qualified nurse for, Christ, twelve years now, and I’m here fighting on behalf of nurses present, future and past.

"I’m also here as a patient, and a citizen – someone who one day will be reliant on the wonderful NHS. It’s patient safety, at the end of the day, that is at risk, and that’s ultimately why we’re here. You don’t become a nurse for anything else!

"We’re already at the tipping point, more people need us, and money is tight. Scrapping education for the nurses of the future? That’s it, enough is enough."

Foysia Arale

“Everyday I’m at a placement or in university, and in the small gaps in my schedule I’m sat in the library, studying hard for my course. If the bursary were to go, I’d have to find a job alongside my studies, but the reality is there are just not enough hours in the day. It would be impossible. On placements, we keep the health service going, we shouldn't have to pay for the privilege.

Julie Williams

“I’m a Senior Officer in the Royal College of Nursing, the union and professional organisation that represents healthcare workers, nurses, and our students. I relied on a bursary as a student nurse; without it I wouldn’t’ be here.

"We think it’s vital that this bursary is kept; student nurses just aren’t like other students in the UK. All of our student nurses spend half their time working in an NHS hospital, and they have to do this to qualify. It’s the only way they can support themselves."

Carrie Kuok

“I’m doing a degree in midwifery at Kings College London, and I’m here today to support students now and in the future. During placements I get up at 5am, and I’m not getting home until often past 10pm. The next day, it’s exactly the same, and now the Government expects me to pay for this."